Selecting an Independent Living Community

What is Independent Living and Is it Right for Me?

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You have a dilemma. The home you raised your children in, the place you came home from work to for 30 years, and the yard you manicured, is now too much. You no longer have the desire to weed the flower bed, lug the vacuum upstairs, and listen to your neighbor's car stereo booming at night. Maybe the memories of this place stretch your entire adult life. Your kids took their first steps in the living room. Your grandkids love playing in the oak-shaded backyard.

Deciding to move into something more manageable is not easy at first. Once you see the necessity and start thinking about the possibilities of a new life in an independent living community, you may feel like a weight has been lifted. We'll try to make selecting an independent living community as easy as possible and arm you with questions, answers, and everything in between. We know it's a big decision!

What Is Independent Living?

When you picture a retirement community, we'd bet that what you're picturing is independent living. You have your own apartment or cottage, yet there are tons of similarly aged people living around you. You can go about your day doing your own thing, or you can join in on scheduled group activities like yoga or shuffleboard and outings like trips to the golf course. And, you aren't dragged down by yard work, home maintenance, or cleaning.

That's independent living. Communities intentionally designed for seniors, often for set age groups like 55+ or 65+, where you can remain independent without feeling lonely or isolated. Everything you need is generally right on campus, like a library, dining options, a fitness center, and social activities. It's fairly similar to the residential side of college life.

What Services and Activities Are Available at Independent Living Communities?

Independent living communities all offer different services and activities for seniors. Some might have a golf course and golf carts right on the property. Others are right in the hubbub of the city, making outings very accessible.

The following are some commonly offered services and amenities:

  • Fitness classes, a gym, and outdoor recreational spaces
  • Book clubs, cooking club, gardening club, Bible club, card clubs, etc.
  • On-site lectures, seminars, and classes
  • Housekeeping, meal preparation, and home maintenance
  • Travel and cultural opportunities
  • Dining facilities
  • Movie nights, games nights, and Bingo
  • Laundry and linen service
  • Around-the-clock security

What Are the Types of Independent Living Facilities?

There are several different types of independent living facilities to meet older adults' needs at various stages of life. Below is a closer look at some of the most popular types.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities Retirement Homes Senior Apartments Subsidized & Low-Income Housing
What is it? One community where you can transition from independent living to assisted living to nursing home care if/when needed Neighborhoods for independent and active retirees who want to live near their peers Apartments designed for seniors that are sometimes part of a continuing care community Senior apartments with below-market rent subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Housing Type Apartment, condo, townhouse, cottage Apartment, condo, townhouse, cottage Apartment with kitchen and bathroom One-bedroom apartment with kitchen and bathroom
Typical Services & Amenities Offered
  • Amenities like a clubhouse, fitness center, walking paths
  • On-site dining room and restaurants
  • Security guards
  • Social activities
  • 24/7 staff available
  • Grounds maintenance
  • Housekeeping
  • Amenities like a clubhouse, pool, fitness center
  • On-site restaurants
  • Security guards
  • Social activities
  • Housekeeping, laundry, maintenance
  • Transportation
  • Community dining room
  • In-room emergency pull-cord systems
  • Grab bars and ramps
  • Housekeeping, laundry, transportation to medical care
  • Community spaces like a library or dining room
  • Home-delivered meals
  • Grab bars and ramps
Who's it Best For? Seniors who have a spouse that needs more care; Seniors who want the option to receive more care if needed Seniors who do not need help with ADLs and can afford the rent and membership fees Seniors who want to live independently but have a more limited budget Low-income seniors who meet the qualifications for Section 202 assistance

What Is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Independent Living?

Independent living is for older adults who want to live independently among their peers with amenities and services tailored to their needs. Assisted living is for seniors who can no longer safely live on their own due to physical or mental limitations. For example, seniors with mobility issues, cognitive decline associated with dementia, a recent stroke, or chronic health issues like diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease might opt for assisted living.

In an assisted living community, seniors get their own private or semi-private space, and they can continue to live as independently as possible. What sets this type of senior living apart is that staff members are available 24/7 to help with activities of daily living (ADLs). That means help with toileting, dressing, grooming, and transport to doctor's appointments. Seniors enjoy housekeeping, laundry, and meal services at no additional cost too.

Many assisted living facilities also staff at least one full-time medical personnel. It might be a certified nursing assistant, an RN, an LVN, or a doctor. For many seniors with health issues, having medical care in-house is important. For a closer look at the difference between these two options, check out our assisted living vs. independent living comparison guide.

Is Independent Living Right for Me?

Choosing to move to an independent living community takes careful consideration, especially if it means you'll need to sell your home. As you do your research and mull it over, don't forget to talk to any friends who may live in an independent living community already. Their first-hand stories might make deciding a bit easier.

You'll likely hear a range of reasons about why they decided to make the move because everyone has their own reasons for choosing independent living.

Here are a few common ones:

  • You want to spend your retirement years amongst your peers.
  • You no longer wish to care for an entire property.
  • You're looking for a built-in support network.
  • You can care for yourself without assistance but like the idea of prepared meals, a cleaning service, and a laundry service.
  • You want to participate in social, educational, and fitness activities without having to drive around.
  • You want to move closer to your loved ones but don't want to buy a house.

If you're having trouble deciding between independent living and assisted living, consider a continuing care retirement community. That way, you aren't entirely locked into one or the other. You can transition into assisted living or out of it while staying in the same community.

How to Choose an Independent Living Community

Deciding you want to move into an independent living community is only the first decision. Next, you'll need to choose the right community. Some older adults just know when they've found the right community. Others need to compare their options meticulously.

Considering the following questions can help you narrow down your search and compare communities.

What's your preferred location?

Knowing your desired location will narrow down your search. Talk with your family to see what they think. If you live far from your family, it might make sense to choose a community near a relative. Or, maybe you've always wanted to move to a warm-weather state. Now would be a great time to look into it.

You may also want to consider rural vs. suburban vs. city. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so it's a matter of what's important to you. If you enjoy staying busy and want public transportation, then the city might make sense. If you find the quiet country life more peaceful, look for a more rural facility.

Is your religion important to you?

Some independent living communities are directly affiliated with a religious group or denomination. At these homes, there's often a church or synagogue on-site along with religious leaders. Activities offered might be rooted in that faith tradition too. When comparing faith-affiliated communities, ask if you can attend their worship services. That can help you determine which one is the right fit.

Does it offer activities you enjoy and services you want?

It might seem obvious, but make sure that the facilities you're looking at offer what you want. Ask to see a copy of last year's activity calendar and a list of services offered. Find out how residents spend their time. Are they social and outgoing, or does everyone keep to themselves?

We also suggest asking how much influence residents have in what goes on. Is there an activity committee that helps plan and suggest events? When there's a movie night, who picks the movie? Is it normal for seniors to start their own clubs? You may feel more at home when they can contribute to the planning.

What security and emergency measures are in place?

Retirement communities generally have some form of security, though some setups are more effective than others. When you tour the property, be on the lookout for vulnerabilities. You could even check with the local police station for reports of crimes or disturbances at the address.

The community should provide security 24/7. Find out who provides the security and when the guards are on duty. Confirm that security will be in place during all days, nights, weekends, and holidays. Also, ask about emergency services in case police, fire, or paramedics are needed. How many minutes away is an ambulance?

Can you afford it?

It's essential to choose a place that you can continually afford. Many seniors sell their homes and use the equity to pay for independent living. Talk to your accountant or a trusted loved one to make sure the place you end up is a place you can afford to stay for as long as you need or want to. When visiting a community, make sure to ask which services are included in membership fees and which are not. We recommend putting together a list that includes the cost of rent, membership fees, and the price of any additional services you want now or may want later.

Why is Independent Living Important?

You might be wondering if a senior can live independently, why wouldn't they just stay at home? That's a great question. The main difference between living independently at home and living in an independent living community is this: seniors who move into an independent living community might be living alone, but they aren't alone.

That distinction makes all of the difference because, amongst seniors who report feeling lonely, there's a 45 percent increased risk of mortality.1 Feelings of social isolation and loneliness can also lead to depression, a higher risk of heart disease, and a higher risk of stroke.1

Like independent living, senior living communities combat loneliness by providing older adults with plenty of social opportunities. There are informal opportunities like befriending your neighbors and formal opportunities like organized clubs, outings, and activities.

Socialization makes a significant difference in a senior's life; older adults who socialize for at least three hours per day report feeling greater happiness than their peers.2 A Harvard School of Public Health Study found that seniors with an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline.3 All in all, independent living communities provide ways to stay socially, mentally, and physically active with built-in programs and services.

How Much Is Independent Living?

What's great about independent living is that you can find facilities at nearly every price point. Wealthier seniors can comfortably afford a high-end, luxury facility or one in a high-income area, which tends to cost the most. Seniors with limited resources can apply for Section 202 low-income housing to move into a low-income senior apartment. There's often a waitlist, so the sooner you send in your application, the better.

On average, prices range from $1,500 to $3,500 per month to live in an independent living community. The cost might seem steep, but remember, it includes more than rent. Most facilities bundle together the price of rent, utilities, and access to amenities. Some places include laundry, housekeeping, and linen service in the monthly price too. At others, you'll need to pay extra.

How to Pay for Independent Living

Personal income is the most common payment source for independent senior living. For low-income seniors, extra funds might be available through the Section 8 rent subsidy program. Active adult communities generally cannot accept payment sources that commonly fund nursing home care and assisted living (like Medicare or Medicaid and long-term care insurance).

To pay for retirement housing, individuals and their families commonly make these moves:

  • Use Social Security and pension payments
  • Withdraw from savings or collect annuity payments
  • Cash out investment retirement accounts
  • Get a loan or line of credit

Consulting with a trusted financial planner is highly advisable as you plan for retirement. Here are a few notes about annuities and loans you might discuss.

Retirement Annuities

An annuity is a financial arrangement between an individual and an insurance company. A well-designed retirement annuity ensures that the person receives a steady stream of income during retirement. The person's savings fund the steady payments; the buyer pays a lump sum upfront.

Ideally, the person's savings fund the steady payments; the buyer pays a lump sum upfront. A retirement annuity is purchased years before it's needed. This brings the most value per dollar because the account can accumulate interest. Still, some annuities can start paying within 30 days. A financial planner can help you understand whether buying a “deferred annuity” or “immediate annuity” would be a wise move.

Benefits of retirement annuities are the security of guaranteed income, the shielding of funds from Medicaid/Medicare consideration, and optional cost-of-living protection.

Home Equity Loan or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A home equity loan or home equity line of credit lets you borrow against the value built up in your home. The money may be used for anything, including buying a home in a retirement community. The loan is a lump sum to be paid back over a set period of time. The line of credit works something like a credit card account; you can use the funds, replace them, and access them again.

When the terms are right, these home equity options might be more cost-effective than liquidating investments. However, the risk of nonpayment is more serious than a ding on your credit report. If you default on home equity payments, you risk losing the home to the bank.

Bridge Loan

A bridge loan is a short-term loan. It's meant to cover expenses until expected income is received. Generally, the expected source of income is a pension or a home sale. A typical scenario for getting a bridge loan is having a pending home sale and wanting funds for the next residence. Bridge loans can be risky, though. If you aren't rushed to relocate, they probably aren't a good match for your needs. A financial pro can help you understand the risks and benefits of your unique situation.

How to Find Independent Living Communities Near Me

Finding nearby independent living communities is as simple as using our senior housing finder tool. Just input your zip code, your budget, and information about what you're looking for. It'll populate a list of nearby independent living communities that you can get in touch with and compare. Talk about easy!

Looking for more information on the different types of senior living available? Watch the video below, featuring Jeff Hoyt, our Editor in Chief, to learn more about your options.

Scott founded Select Home Care Portland in 2009 and has been helping seniors live their best life at home or in their local senior community ever since. As an advocate for seniors, the primary philosophy has been to listen, educate and provide… Learn More About Scott Witt

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman

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